Mechanism and software design: the use of a stochastic social-process algorithm in the design of a writing tutor program.
Pratt, Deirdre Denise
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One of the chief difficulties in designing effective courseware for improving writing proficiency is that composing, like other forms of human communication, is a complex social process with little or no agreement as to its precise nature or structure. Designing a versatile writing tutor program which will mimic the functions performed by a human tutor requires a systematic investigation into the complex processes involved in composing, in particular its commonalities and variables, and the ways in which it is shaped to the various contexts in which it occurs. This paper suggests that in order to translate complex social processes effectively into educational software design, it is first advisable to discover the social mechanisms which effect the process. In the case of written composition, a complex modelling procedure was followed which used a process of reverse engineering to arrive at a system of essential communicative functions. The architecture of functions thus revealed validated a practical model of composing, which in turn could be seen to constitute a stochastic algorithm for composing. The algorithm was used as the basis for the design of a writing tutor program, which took the form of a help menu based around the five stages of composing depicted in the algorithm. The program has still to be tested out by learner writers working in various educational contexts.